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Yoga School Drop Out

November 26, 2009

When I told my mom that the realization felt like a ton of bricks hitting me, she said something disarmingly poetic:

“Maybe it wasn’t a ton of bricks hitting you, but a door opening, and a blast of wind hitting you.”

Maybe indeed.

I’ve been really struggling with my advanced training program.  As I put it a couple posts ago: “Right now I’m just trying to find apertures where I can, and compassion for myself where I can’t.  As I learned in AA, ‘take what you want and leave the rest.’”  I’ve been thinking a lot about that saying; though it’s used to refer to the AA program itself, I realized it can have multiple meanings.  When an alcoholic wants to begin a life of sobriety, one of the most important things he or she usually does is stop going to bars, and seek out community apart from her or his drinking buddies.  You can’t “leave the rest” if The Rest is constantly in your face, if you’re too close to The Rest to see what you want to take otherwise.

So I’ve been sitting in training, tense, angry, frustrated not knowing how to find space and compassion toward a spiritual system that doesn’t resonate with me, too close to it to remember why I was there.

Then I went into four days of silent retreat with two of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Sharon Salzberg & Sylvia Boorstein.  The moment I got to the retreat center – a fantastic refuge called The Garrison Institute – I felt calmer, content, at home.  And when I sat down for the first Dharma talk, and my first meditation in months in that elegant, touching, simple Vipassana style – as embarrassingly cliche as it sounds – I felt like I was jumping into pure, cold, clear water after days in the desert. Just 12 or so hours later, when I began the first full day of silence and meditation, it hit me.

I had to drop out.

Now, I was not looking to come to this conclusion. I had hoped to find wisdom and compassion on how to deal with training, not how to leave it.  But over and over, as I sat my retreat, the answer kept coming to me: in the choice of words of my teachers, in my meditations, even on the insides of tea bag tags.  I just reread my notes right before and right after I had this insight.  Just before, Sharon had been discussing how we commonly look at strength as a herculean effort to hold on, but that in reality, strength is the ability to let go, gracefully and gently.  I remember bursting into tears when she said this, and writing the answer (as a question): Do I want to drop out of school?

We then meditated. Or rather, the rest of the 100+ participants meditated.  I cried.  I quietly sobbed.  If you ever read the blog I used to write for a certain online publication, I spoke once on my history with crying – that, in particular, I often cry when I’m hit with resonant truth.  So I cried. I cried and then I wrote a list of all the questions, issues, struggles I might have with this decision.  The very first of this kind was: “I’ve never dropped out of anything big like this.”

I come from a family mentality of “you finish what you start.”  When I was miserable as a fat little girl in a leotard getting laughed at in gymnastics, I still had to finish… when I came home crying, not ready for sleep over camp, I went back as a day student… there’s only one other major program I’ve dropped out of – Catholic confirmation class.

The mirroring of that major decision to this one was stark: the issues of spirituality, of seeking my own path, most powerfully, of the questioning that is such a huge part of my personality, my inability to take anything at face value, and the fact that at 28, I can celebrate those parts of me instead of feeling guilty, alienated, or abnormal for my lack of faith.

So. I declare proudly. I’m a yoga school drop out.  I’m going to start studying yoga on my own terms, with a focus on mindfulness and compassion and Buddhist precepts, and we’ll see where this open door and gust of wind takes me…

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